So long, and thanks for all the fishing dailies...

2010-07-07 12:16

A few years back, I decided that I wanted to try one of these Massively Multiplayer Online games (MMOs). After some poking around, and research, I settled on World of Warcraft. My reasons at the time were simple; Blizzard had a stellar track record of doing their best to make every game solid, well-considered, well-planned, and so on.

It was a great game. I had a blast playing it. The continual improvements and design tweaks kept making the game better and more fun. They really did a great job.

A while back, they announced a new feature, in conjunction with a Facebook marketing deal of some sort. The new feature was “Real ID”, and the idea was that you would be able to identify yourself to some other players using your real name (meaning the name associated with your account). That name pretty much has to be the name on your government ID — that’s what would be used to recover the account if it got compromised, for instance. Well, this was pretty unpopular as a concept in many ways, because a lot of people have real names that they don’t like to go by, or which identify their ethnicity or gender. In some cases, their “real names” would misidentify their gender.

But hey, the feature’s optional. Blizzard reps said that you should use the feature only with people you know and trust in real life. Now, they didn’t do this quite right — there’s a friends-of-friends feature, which is not optional and cannot be disabled or avoided, so that if you have two friends, they see each others’ real names. You’d think that just seeing the name wouldn’t matter much, but it does; someone who sees a name he doesn’t know can, for instance, decide to harass that person. This really does happen; a kid friended his sister and his guild leader (WoW players tend to form groups called “guilds”), and the guild leader turned out to think it was really funny to post the sister’s name so that other players could look her up, post her phone number in the game, and so on.

Whoops.

It doesn’t end there. Yesterday, Blizzard announced a great new idea. They’re going to make it so that their official game discussion forums use Real ID. As in, if you want to post, you will post under your “real name”. No exceptions. No way out. Their explanation is that their forums are a cesspit (they are), and that this will create “accountability” for the trolls.

One of the Blizzard reps pointed out that real names don’t matter too much; his name was Micah Whipple and he didn’t see the big deal. Within about half an hour, someone named Micah Whipple who lived sort of near one of Blizzard’s main operating centers was getting harassed pretty badly, to the point where he had to shut down his Facebook page and so on. Was he the same guy? We actually don’t know. Since then, rumor has it, the company has decided that staff will not participate in the Real ID forum thing “for security reasons”.

Customers, of course, still participate in that, because customers don’t need security.

The problem is this. As noted, Blizzard’s forums are a cesspit. They are full of trolls. They are full of people who think it is their mission in life to mock the weak, by which they mean anyone who can be hurt by being mocked. Now, Blizzard feels that making trolls post under their real names creates “accountability”.

Does it? Most of the trolls probably don’t care — indeed, most of them are posting on their parents’ accounts anyway (minors can’t have WoW accounts, they can only play on accounts associated with their legal guardians). But insofar as it does, it creates that accountability because, posting under their real names, they’re subject to consequences. So what do you think they’ll do? I think they’ll stop posting, true. I think they’ll keep reading the forums and harassing the other posters, though. In the past, the trolls harassed people in the forums and in the game because that was the only avenue they had for harassing people. Now, they’ll be able to harass people in real life. Especially people with unusual names. Especially women.

I normally don’t like to use the phrase, but this is a brilliant example of the much-talked-about “white male privilege”. If I were to post on those forums, I’d show up as “Peter Seebach”. Okay, sure, people could find me easily enough, but what of it? I’m a pretty public person to begin with. My name doesn’t stand out too much.

The racists who populate the forums will be pretty happy to be able to quickly identify people who are probably Chinese, or Mexican, or of some sort of Arabic descent, or at least named as though they are. The potential stalkers will be given a free guide to which posters are male or female, with a full name they can search on to determine whether a given poster is in their area.

Meanwhile, people whose jobs or fields of work frown on MMO gamers won’t be able to post to the forums at all. People whose jobs require them not to post on the internet under their own names (there are many such jobs) won’t be able to post to the forums at all. The official response from Blizzard is that they’re aware that many people won’t be willing to post, and they are fine with this because they think it will make the forums better. Only… The people who aren’t posting are all the best and the brightest. The people who got identified as Most Valuable Posters (MVPs) are by and large planning to stop posting. The developers who wrote addon software to improve the game are more likely than other people to have real professional jobs which would compel them to stop posting. In short, the more serious and thoughtful you are, the more likely it is that you have too much to lose to risk posting under your real name on a forum dominated by trolls.

So I’m out. I cancelled my subscriptions, and so have, so far as I know, all the other people I know in real life who played WoW. Whether the forums will be improved by the loss, I don’t know, but I know that I’ll miss what was a truly awesome game, and I’m pretty bummed about not getting to see the work they’re doing on the next expansion pack, which looked like a great deal of fun.

Fundamentally, though, I just don’t trust them anymore.

Peter Seebach

,

---

Comment

  1. Safety and privacy concerns, while very serious, are not my area of expertise. You know what I can comment on? Security. When you call Blizzard, you are asked four pieces of information: your email address, your first name, your last name, and your secret question. So right away, you’re giving away two parts of their four part security. It’s ridiculously easy to find someone’s email address from their name, especially when a lot of people have firstname.lastname@host.com as their email address. The questions that people use for their secret question are very very common. The majority of people use city of birth, mother’s maiden name, high school, or pet’s name. If someone is on a social networking site, with their name, you can easily find that information.

    Giving away the security of your paying customers is a terrible idea. Oh, I’m sorry, selling the security of your paying customers. In case people haven’t noticed, the World of Warcraft community, for the most part, seems vehemently opposed to the idea. There are reports of the subscription cancellation page going down for several hours because of being flooded with people who do not want to be a part of this.

    — Fibericon · 2010-07-07 22:44 · #

  2. Very thought out, thorough and true. My subscription ran out July 5th, and I had been thinking about quitting and waiting for Cataclysm. I was pretty cautious about RealID in game for real life friends, but I decided to use it because my friends are either in different states, or play on different servers.

    Since a court battle, I have realized that privacy is necessary in pretty much everything we do online and off. Luckily I have been relatively low key. You don’t go around introducing your first and last name to anyone, you don’t give out invites to your facebook/myspace (if you use them) to anyone.

    Thanks you to and the tens of thousands of other frequent forum goers, I will not be renewing. I will also not buy from blizzard again as long as they have realID in any unprotected form. It really is a sad day as I was pretty excited for Diablo 3 and Cataclysm.

    We got them were it hurts most though, by the money staying in our wallets and purses.

    Thank you for posting.

    — Steve · 2010-07-07 23:52 · #

  3. EXACTLY. So blizzard hasn’t stopped trolling or flaming, they just have decided they don’t want to see it. If it happens at your home, over your phone, at your work, on your facebook or anywhere else in your private life, then that’s fine with them. They just don’t want to have to deal with this anymore.

    And why wouldn’t you have to deal with this anymore? Think about it. If you have less trolls, you don’t need to moderate the forums as much. If you don’t need to moderate the forums as much, you don’t have to hire as many people and can likely lay a whole lot of them off!

    The thing that bothers me even more though is the idea that they are going to be putting ads into the game that come and go. You’ll be seeing billboards in Azeroth? Or popups? I don’t go to websites that pull this. I don’t listen to commercial radio because of this. I TiVo everything because of this. What the hell makes them think I’m going to pay them while some advertiser is? They are obviously trying to gear the game to the more social scene and probably a younger demographic. They’ll easily accept these changes.

    — Melissa · 2010-07-09 07:40 · #

  4. Howdy, saddens me to see this going down, I’ve sorta been following my friends, S.Fortis, and W.O.W. since leaving. Still have an unopened game card, Christmas gift, lol.

    After they release the new x-pac and see the numbers maybe(small maybe) they’ll change coarse. If nothing else it stirred my interest enough to pop-in, say “Hi”, and that I think of/miss you all often. Say howdy for me if you still have loose ends to take care of in-game. Hoping ALL things work for the good plus wishing the best to ALL. Until next time “Wave” later. =)

    — Cerinc · 2010-07-09 15:54 · #

  5. Heya, Cerinc! Since Blizzard did in fact reverse this, I’ll probably play occasionally again. That said, in the mean time I’m playing City of Heroes, which has managed to obtain a really friendly and sociable community without a hint of real names anywhere. But everyone gets a global alias, and you can friend people using those aliases — so being friendly to people is a real win, especially since their system encourages people to play with people of wildly differing levels, with reasonable playability. Meaning anyone you make friends with can help any of your characters out…

    It’s almost as though encouraging cooperative play makes people more likely to cooperate, huh.

    Peter Seebach · 2010-07-21 01:41 · #

 
---